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Smoke detectors - is your life worth at least $10.00?

Updated on May 9, 2011

A very inexpensive and extremely important type of a life saving device, but one of those we tend to forget about, or sometimes disconnect when they start chirping / calling for a new battery. Smoke detectors began their journey into our lives in 1890 (as a fire alarm), and evolved into residential, commercially available alarms in United States type between 1969 and 1971... for $125.00 a piece. During the next few years, technology advanced significantly making smoke detectors much cheaper and available basically for everyone (Smoke alarm history at Wikipedia).

There are two types of smoke detectors available on the market - ionization and photoelectric. Each based on different technology:

- ionization smoke detector responds to invisible by-products of combustion (burning process)

- photoelectric smoke detector responds to visible by-products of combustion (burning process)

  • ... and which one is better?

My suggestion would be to use both (either both types simultaneously or combination units), simply because they respond with different time delay to hazardous conditions, and sometimes that extra few seconds differential might save your life - an independent study performed by concluded that sometimes the ionization smoke detectors don't give people enough time to escape.

Warning: check CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) for any recalls on smoke alarms

The smoke detector placement is just as important as having them installed and functional. Overdoing it shouldn't be an issue, so for all of you living in Chicago - overdo it! For a few extra bucks, give yourself more protection and install extra smoke detectors in every bedroom (City of Chicago doesn't require such installation).

Recommended installation:

- Check with your Local Code Enforcement Division to ensure that you have at least the minimum required in this particular jurisdiction, for installation use the guide that came with your device to determine proper location.

- Smoke Detectors / Alarms should be installed on every level of your home (staircases and hallways), including basement and habitable / finished attic (some jurisdictions apply this to the attic in which you can stand up).

Additional installation in each and every bedroom (specially if you sleep with the door closed) is required in most jurisdictions, but not in the City of Chicago (it is highly recommended, though)

- They should be mounted high on walls or ceiling (smoke naturally rises up), but never inside so called "dead air space" which is 4" from the ceiling / wall joint in both directions, and no lower than 12" from the ceiling if mounted on the wall

- Try to mount them in a such manner that you'll avoid vapors from the bathroom and kitchen, to prevent false alarms

- Do not place Smoke Detectors (if possible) near windows, doors and air circulating registers (some jurisdictions are very strict about this), because drafts from those sources might compromise proper response to emergency condition

- Test smoke detectors every month - a very important home maintenance task - (when you push test button, loud noise should be heard within the few seconds) and change batteries at least once a year, or as soon as they start making periodical short beeps

- if you have security system attached smoke / fire detection devices, consult with the service provider prior to testing, because you don't want to pay fire dept. for a false alarm

- Install interconnected devices if possible, the great thing about them is that if one detects smoke, they will all signal it together (there are wireless and hard wired Smoke Detectors that work in such manner) - change Smoke Detectors every ten years, or earlier if it becomes necessary


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